Lights, Camera … Subject?

I bought a photography table tent a few weeks ago and a pair of tabletop LED lights to use with it. The lights were very inexpensive so I didn’t expect very much from them, but they produce quite a bit of light and are small and easy to use. The lights came with blue and yellow plastic filters that fit over the light, but let’s face it, I’m never satisfied with just two colors of art supplies! Are you?

So immediately I went looking online to see what else I could find — never mind the fact that I have no immediate use for these things. The filter gels, which is what they’re called, averaged about $12 for a sheet, but my lights are very small and I don’t have a need for a large square filter. I found a Roscolux sample book and ordered that. If I could cut out one of the samples and fit it over my lights, that would be great, but if not then at least I would have actual samples of the gel colors. Then, if I want to buy larger sheets later on, I’ll know what colors to order.

I’ve done traditional photography and darkroom work, so filters are nothing new to me. I still have a collection of Cokin and Tiffin filters that I use occasionally (hey, not everything has to be Photoshop!) but they won’t fit my new lights without being cut down and I don’t want to ruin them. So, here are some photos of my lighting adventure.

Here is the LED lamp. There is a gap between the white bulb and the black lamp housing, which is a bit difficult to see in this photo. The bulb I want to cover with the filter is just over an inch and a half wide. You can see the blue and yellow plastic filters that came with the lamps in the background, and that black ring top right (also shown below) is what screws over the lamp to hold the filters in place.


And this is a close-up of the ring for the housing. I really only need to cover the opening with any new filter or gel that I use, although the lamp housing will accommodate something up to about 2 inches.

Here’s the yellow plastic filter that came with the lamps. It measures about 2 inches across so it’s wider than the opening in the housing ring. I cut one of the Roscolux samples out of the book (actually not the whole piece, but about three-quarters of it) and placed it over the yellow plastic filter to compare sizes. I marked where the gel was too large and cut off the corners (not shown) so it would fit the lamp housing.


Well, it’s close! The red Roscolux sample gel is narrower than the yellow plastic filter, and here’s what it looks like when the lamp housing is assembled with the gel in place. Although the red gel doesn’t entirely fill the space inside the ring, crucially, all of the LEDs are covered. When I tried the lamp, it worked wonders. The white photography tent lit up like some demonic Halloween world, blood red and spooky and very, very bright. And that was with only one colored lamp!

So, it’s possible for me to use my samples for some actual photography, although I’ll need a second sample book to cover both lamps. If I buy larger photo lights I will need to purchase entire gel sheets, but for now, this is fine for experiments. I have my lights, and my camera. But now, I just need a good subject …

Getting the Right Slant

This tree at Great Falls, Virginia, shows great visual texture. The angle of the tree matches the angle of the rock formation across the river.

This tree at Great Falls, Virginia, shows great visual texture. The angle of the tree matches the angle of the rock formation across the river.

I spent an hour or two today fussing with my new light setup, but I haven’t found a good place to put my photo tent yet and I still need to get the wrinkles out of the nylon background fabric. I’ve already ironed it once and frankly that sort of thing just isn’t my cup of tea: one nickname that I’ll never aspire to is “domestic goddess.”

I’m setting up some materials for a post on lighting but that’s for another day. Tonight I sorted through some older photos to see what would be a good inspiration for a blog post.

This tree at Great Falls, Virginia, caught my interest when I visited there a few years back and I was trying to get the texture of the bark and the rocks in the foreground. What I didn’t notice until I was going through the photographs later was that the angle of the tree matches the rocks on the other side of the river.

If you look you can see cracks through the rocks where geological and weathering forces have worked on them. I’m sure it’s just a coincidence that the tree branch is nearly the exact same angle as the rocks, but it makes for an interesting composition.

This photo was taken while I was on a hike and I hand-held the camera, so the focus isn’t very sharp. The colors in the image are pretty bland, but that’s the way they were in real life, too. And that’s the problem with photos of subjects like this — they tend to be so monochromatic that they might as well be black and white photographs.

And actually this one might be better as a B&W image, so pardon me while I go off to Photoshop and try a few variations to see if I can make this image any more interesting.

So here we are. I’ve made two quick variations on the original image, both using the Topaz Black and White Effects filters, to see how they will change the image. The one on the left is a cyanotype version. It’s very moody but I would like to have more brilliance in the white caps on the water. There’s not enough variation in the tones to make the image really good, but this reminds me of some of the duotone images that I’ve seen in old textbooks and encyclopedias. The image on the right is called eggplant, and it does have a slight purplish overtone. Again, the water is muddy and there aren’t enough bright spots to make the water sparkle.

The original photo isn’t very appealing, despite the interesting lines in the composition, and the two images below could use more work to bring out some highlights. But it’s interesting to see how the color difference changes the feel of the images. The blue one is almost sinister, but the brown one shows off the texture of the wood much better.

Same tree and rocks, but with Topaz B&W Effects Teal Dynamic filter applied.

Same tree and rocks, but with Topaz B&W Effects Teal Dynamic filter applied.

And here it is with the Topaz B&W Effects Eggplant Dynamic filter applied.

And here it is with the Topaz B&W Effects Eggplant Dynamic filter applied and a black border added.

Midnight Writing

Holiday decorations, New York Avenue, Washington, D.C. I took this photo in 2015 with a point-and-shoot infrared camera, then applied filters for a more artistic interpretation.

Holiday decorations, New York Avenue, Washington, D.C. I took this photo in 2015 with a point-and-shoot infrared camera, then applied the Topaz Adjust cross-process III filter in post-processing for a more artistic interpretation of the scene.

I slacked off writing last week and didn’t get very much done, so I had to do some late-night writing on Sunday to keep up with my weekly word-count goals. I know it’s too easy to fall behind and then not be able to catch up, and this past year’s NaNoWriMo I found myself continually treading that path between staying on par and falling behind. It was one reason that I found this last challenge so difficult. This year I’m determined to keep up my word count on a weekly basis so projects don’t get dragged on from one week to the next.

Last week I watched a Lynda.com video on food photography. It was pretty interesting and I especially liked some of the tips that the presenter had for setting up light reflectors. He used a floral frog, which is a metal or plastic circle with a bunch of pins stuck in it, like a porcupine. Of course I went to the hobby store this weekend with the idea of buying one and was unable to find them, so I ended up buying a set of six fancy place card holders that were clearance-priced.

They’re fairly heavy and they have a coil of wire designed to hold papers or cards, so I think they’ll work for holding the reflective papers that I have as long as I don’t use a large sheet at one time. On the plus side, if I keep them with my camera gear I won’t stick my hand into the bag and get stabbed the way I would with one of those metal floral frogs, so maybe it was a good thing I couldn’t find any of them!

I’ve been getting into cocktails and I have some ideas for taking photographs of the drinks, so I bought a bunch of printed papers to use as backgrounds for the photo sessions and some metallic-coated papers that should work well as reflectors. I have tomorrow off work for the holiday, so I’m going to take the time to do some creative photography and writing. I’ll post whatever works, but I suppose I’ll have to drink the failures. Get rid of the evidence, and all that. Ah well, all creatives must suffer for their art!

Windows and Stone

Laurel, Maryland: A window in the old Laurel Volunteer Fire Department building. Here, I cropped the image to focus your attention on the window itself and not on the ugly power lines or pavement.

The original image was not level and had too many distracting elements.

I’m going through some of my older photographs and seeing what raw material I have for doing some creative work in Photoshop. I keep buying issues of Photoshop Creative and other art magazines and then I let them sit on my desk while I’m busy with schoolwork or other stuff. But this is the final week of my humanities class and I only have one more short assignment to work on, and I already feel like a kid of the verge of summer vacation.

I’m taking a month’s break before starting my next history class in June. I’m just about halfway through my master’s degree program in European history (another week!) and plan to use the final weeks of April and all of May to finish my novel and catch up on some other creative projects that I’ve started — one of which is learning Photoshop CS5 a lot better. So, now it’s time to dust off the electronic cobwebs from some of my digital files and get creative!

What I’ve done with these two photographs is extremely basic. With the window image, I had to straighten it so that the lines in the image were horizontal. I had taken the picture with a hand-held camera and the image was crooked in the frame. Plus, there were a lot of distracting elements in the original photo. This is one of those small things that you don’t necessarily see while you’re out taking photos, but as soon as you pull it up onscreen it looks awful. The trick is to start training yourself to look for these things while you’re out taking pictures so that you have less mess to deal with once you’re back at the computer, although sometimes you can’t avoid them altogether. You don’t want to spend all your time editing out power lines from your images!

I used the Image Rotation feature in Photoshop and manipulated the image by rotating it about 1.3 degrees counterclockwise. I had to play with the numbers a bit until it looked straight. I don’t know if there’s a protractor tool or not in Photoshop CS5, so I just winged it. I haven’t been using Photoshop for some time and I’m rusty with masking and some of the finely tuned controls, plus I haven’t learned most of the new tools in CS5 (I upgraded from CS, so it’s a bit of a shock to my system!).

After straightening the image I used Unsharp Mask and applied some sharpening, careful to keep the amount low enough so that I didn’t introduce major artifacts to the image. I cropped the image so the street and electric wires are gone, since they add nothing but clutter to the image. The result is that the window and the stonework become the center of attention. I also used Topaz Adjust’s HDR filter to bring out some detail in the stone. Take a close look at the original image and the edited image. There’s a great deal of texture in the brick and stone, and the glass has a much more reflective quality than it did in the original.

Here, I've given emphasis to the texture of the stonework by converting the image to black and white with the Topaz B&W filter plug-in.

For this smaller image of the building’s dedication plaque, I did very little except convert the image to black and white with Topaz filters. I liked the angles in this image because they lend some movement to the picture and make it a bit less static. And the horizontal lines aren’t so far removed from being level that the image seems unbalanced, either. Also, there’s an interesting contrast between the textures and shapes. The stone and concrete are rough enough that you can almost feel the texture, while the glass is smooth. The stones are irregular in shape but the square glass blocks with their vertical and horizontal dividers make for a strict geometric background.